The News Tribune

With four weeks to go before Congress' supercommittee must deliver a deficit-reduction plan, Democratic Rep. Adam Smith of Tacoma offered some blunt advice to its members on Wednesday: Raise taxes.

As a long-term budget fix, "spending will have to come down, and we're going to have to generate new revenues," Smith, the top-ranked member of the House Armed Services Committee, told his colleagues on the panel.

If the supercommittee fails to agree to cut the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion by its Nov. 23 deadline, it won't be for lack of ideas from the Washington state congressional delegation.

Republican Rep. Doc Hastings of Pasco wants to drill for more oil and sell off "surplus facilities and non-essential federal lands."

Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Lake Stevens, suggests raising Social Security payroll taxes on higher-wage workers, collecting more taxes from oil and gas companies and reducing federal crop subsidies for farmers.

Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Camas says a good place to start would be to cut the salaries of the president, the vice president and all members of Congress by 10 percent.

And Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, wants to jack up the income-tax rate for billionaires from 35 percent to 49 percent, slap new "leverage" taxes on large banks and do away with tax-exempt municipal bonds.

Even Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, the panel's co-chair, has submitted modest proposals to pare spending on veterans.

Like most members of Congress, however, the Washington state delegation has more ideas about what not to cut than serious proposals to reduce the red ink.

With the state heavily dependent on defense spending, many warn that cuts to the Pentagon would be particularly disastrous, leading to big job losses.

Like Smith, Rep. Norm Dicks of Bremerton, the top-ranked Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, wants the supercommittee to take a "balanced" approach, which means including new revenues.

If the supercommittee does not reach agreement on a plan, Dicks said, it would result in across-the-board spending cuts that would include more than $2 billion from military construction accounts. He said that would hurt the construction industry, affecting everything from barracks to child-development centers.

"If you fail, dire consequences await our nation," Dicks said in a letter to the 12-member bipartisan committee. He pinpointed no areas for cuts in his 11-page letter.

While the supercommittee held a rare public meeting Wednesday, its members have been virtually mum about its deliberations the past two months.

Seeking to sway the committee members, fellow lawmakers and advocacy groups have swamped the panel with letters and petitions on how exactly they should lower the red ink.

In his letter, Hastings, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, told the supercommittee that it could "create tens of thousands of jobs and generate hundreds of billions in new government revenue" by developing oil and natural gas supplies in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

In addition to selling unneeded federal properties, Hastings said, the government could increase its revenues by pushing for a "balanced, multi-use approach" to public lands, including "more active management of our timber and mineral resources on federal lands."

Many members of Congress have shown more appetite for blocking cuts or even raising taxes than in pinpointing where to curtail spending.

At a meeting of the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, Smith said that while he wants to avoid big defense cuts, he doesn't want education, health care and other non-defense programs to suffer too much, either. He said it's time for the supercommittee "to make some serious choices."

"If we are serious about not cutting large amounts of funding from the defense budget, something else has to give," Smith said.

As chairwoman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, Murray wrote a letter to the supercommittee, too.

She said the nation should not balance the budget "on the backs of America's veterans." Nonetheless, Murray tossed in five ideas to save $57 million over five years on veterans' programs. They include correlating wartime pensions and other benefits to incomes, and crosschecking with the Internal Revenue Service to verify that individual veterans qualify for payments.

Some members are weighing in, but choosing not to publicly disclose their advice to the supercommittee.

For example, Republican Rep. Dave Reichert of Auburn, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, has said little in public, but his spokesman, Charles McCray, said Reichert "has the opportunity to provide input" to Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, chairman of the Ways and Means panel and one of six Republicans on the supercommittee.

McCray would not say what Reichert has shared with Camp.

Congress created the supercommittee, known formally as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, in August as part of a deal to increase the federal debt ceiling.

The agreement put caps on future spending to rein in the deficit by about $900 million, and put the supercommittee in charge of finding ways to lower it by additional $1.2 trillion over the next decade.

The biggest issue facing the committee is whether to raise taxes or to focus solely on cuts.

Virtually every Republican in Congress has pledged to oppose any new taxes to blunt the budget cuts.

On the other side, the 75-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, which includes McDermott and other liberals, has tallied more than $6 trillion worth of new revenue for the supercommittee to consider. Their ideas include allowing the Bush-era tax cuts to expire and imposing new taxes on derivatives and speculative financial products.